Agency to further review media ownership limits

A federal appellate court turned back the FCC’s effort to relax its limits on ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same market, ruling that the agency failed to give adequate notice when it made the change in late 2007.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling means the FCC will again have to take up the rules, which supporters argued were necessary to strengthen local newsgathering in the face of declining ad revenue.

The FCC under then-chairman Kevin Martin had repealed its ban on newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership in favor of a case-by-case approach under a set of guidelines. A number of public interest groups challenged the change, arguing that the commission did not follow the notice and commenting requirement of the Administrative Procedure Act. Media congloms like CBS and Gannett, however, said that the FCC did not go far enough in relaxing the rules.

“We won on almost every point,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior VP and policy director of the Media Access Project, which represented Prometheus Radio Project in challenging the changes. “This decision is a vindication of the public’s right to have a diverse media environment. The FCC majority knew that its effort to allow more media concentration was politically and legally unworkable, so it tried to end-run the procedural protections that are designed to give the public the right to participate in agency proceedings.”

The court also said that the FCC failed to adequately consider the impact of its new rules on minority ownership of media outlets.

Judges Thomas Ambro and Julio Fuentes found fault with the FCC’s rule change, while Judge Anthony Scirica dissented.

The FCC is currently undertaking another review of its media ownership rules. In a statement, the agency said that it “should be able to take appropriate steps to ensure that the nation’s media marketplace remains healthy and vibrant.”

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters, said in a statement that the org “believes that modest reform of rules to allow free and local broadcasters to compete successfully in a universe of national pay TV and radio platforms is warranted.”

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